Friday, February 8, 2008

Watson & Brantley: "Confederate Guerrilla Sue Mundy"

[Confederate Guerrilla Sue Mundy: A Biography of Kentucky Soldier Jerome Clarke by Thomas S. Watson and Perry A. Brantley (McFarland - ph. 800-253-2187, 2008) Paperback, photos, notes, bibliography. Pages main/total: 238/209 ISBN: 978-0786432806 $35]

Confederate Guerrilla Sue Mundy is not a traditional biography of its subject, Morgan Raider turned bushwhacker Marcellus Jerome Clarke, but rather a meticulously detailed recounting of the guerrilla warfare that raged across large swaths of north-central Kentucky in the latter months of the war. While "Sue Mundy" is certainly the focus of this study, the narrative also closely follows the exploits of equally well known comrades-in-arms, men such as Samuel "One Armed" Berry, Stanley Young/"Bill Marion", and Henry Magruder. Even William C. Quantrill, who crossed into Kentucky from Missouri with a sizable band of followers, features prominently.

The "Sue Mundy" persona was a fictional creation of Louisville Journal newspaperman George Prentice. While the various myths and legends attached to Mundy are discussed in various places throughout the text, I believe the reader would have benefited more from a concentrated, systematic approach. What Prentice hoped to accomplish and the contradictory manner in which he went about trumpeting his creation, was confusing to say the least. A section of the epilogue does address at some length the issue of Mundy's dress [no, Clarke never did outfit himself in women's garb]. What the notoriety did ensure was Clarke's execution if captured, which is exactly what happened.

Readers might be surprised at the intensity (and relative inpunity) of the guerrilla raiding so close to a major Union garrison city such as Louisville. Watson and Brantley illustrate this vicious brand of warfare very well, characterized all too often by lawless plundering and murdering of civilians with only secondary concerns for organized efforts against enemy military detachments. Federally supported countermeasures could be equally ruthless, with Union General Stephen Burbridge executing dozens of Confederate prisoners (regular military POWs and political detainees) in retaliation for the killing of U.S. soldiers and pro-Union civilians. Paramilitary groups [labeled 'decoy guerrillas' by the authors] were also sanctioned by Federal authorities, with predictable results (Ed Terrell's gang being one of the prime examples of the cure being as bad as the disease). While Watson and Brantley's balanced and well organized depiction of these events has clear intrinsic value, the authors largely pass on the opportunity to analyze in depth their guerrilla subjects through the broader lens of Kentucky politics, society, and community conflict.

The bibliography size and diversity of source types consulted is limited. Citations from several chapters indicate an almost complete reliance on court martial papers, prompting one to wish for more explanatory notes detailing their use. Additionally, personal interviews were frequently cited, without indication of whether further documentary research was undertaken to corroborate the information*. The secondary sources consulted by the authors are older works. In terms of presentation, while the absence of maps is unfortunate, a very nice array of rare photographs (many previously unpublished) were included.

Above concerns aside, Confederate Guerrilla Sue Mundy is nevertheless a notable contribution to Kentucky's Civil War library. I am not aware of any other study of guerrilla warfare in this region of the state that even remotely approaches the level of detail uncovered by authors Thomas Watson and Perry Brantley. The resulting study is not definitive, but it's framework provides a very welcome and needed start.

* - As a side note, the authors discovered several interesting documents held in private hands, to include poetry purportedly written in the hand of William C. Quantrill.

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